The Road to Rowdy
Rowdy the Redhawk is a familiar face around the campus at Southeast, but before he came out of his shell, the university knew another mascot.
For over 80 years the athletic teams of Southeast were referred to as the Indians, and the women’s teams were known as the Otahkians in 1973.
The teams were supported by Chief Sagamore, depicted in full headdress and war paint. There was also Princess Otahki, a Native American princess in ceremonial attire. The two roamed the sidelines in support of the teams and represented the idea of what it was to be at Southeast.
Today, Rowdy and the Redhawk brand are far cries from the days of the Chief, but the memory of the Indians remain.
The new mascot we know today came about after years of trying to convince those with ties to Southeast that the change was needed.
The awareness for a need to change arose from a national indigenous civil-rights movement that started as early as the 1960s and gained notoriety over the ensuing decades.
In the mid 1980s, the process of change began at Southeast when the university administration initiated an evaluation of the use of Native American nicknames and mascots.
Judy Wiles, interim dean of Harrison College of Business, began teaching at Southeast around the time the discussions began.
Years later in 2003, Wiles was asked by then-university president Kenneth Dobbins to serve on the committee “Mascots Nicknames Survey Research Report,” which interpreted the survey results of the surveys conducted for the Board of Regents.
Wiles recalled initial attempts to keep the name Indians included creating mascots with no association to Native American names/imagery.
Wiles said a NCAA study group found the main concern with the use of the usage of Native American names was the name “Indians,” in reference to a race of people.
“When you have a tribe that you recognize and the local tribe has given you permission to use that name, that’s quite a bit different than using a race of people,” Wiles said.
“Most Native Americans don’t feel honored by the name. It’s a mockery," President of the American Indian Center of the Heartland Glinda Ladd Seabaugh said in a 2004 Southeast Newswire article. "Most Indian people feel it’s time for a change.”
Seabaugh also told ESPN, via the Associated Press, in June 2004 said that she believed Southeast had not intended any harm, but hanging onto Indian names was a type of cultural racism.
“We are human beings...We are not mascots,” Seabaugh said.
There were three attempts at this between 1987 and 1997, and all failed in terms of gaining fan acceptance.
During the 1988-1989 academic year, university administration removed Chief Sagamore from sporting events and Princess Otahki followed two years later.
The university faced the challenge of finding a new imagery, which included a team name and mascot.
For 15 years, the campus was left without a mascot to represent the athletic teams and university. The brand itself was a mixture of Native American nicknames without matching symbols.
The absence of an official symbol besides the word “Southeast” caused the university problems as media references were still as the Indians, despite the university no longer officially using the name."
“Imagery, especially in sports and for college spirit, we need a visual image, a mascot, as well as a nickname,” Wiles said.
Wiles added that admissions and recruitment also were affected by the imagery and name being out of sync.
At conferences and high schools recruiting, the image of the Indian was not utilized in any capacity.
“Our image was really the dome, as compared to other schools that had a mascot on site or imagery related to the nickname. It was pretty limiting,” Wiles said.
The Indian brand was no longer sustainable, because no license revenue was coming in from it, and the juggling of multiple images left student culture and university marketing without a rallying point.
“The brand was just kind of languishing,” Wiles said. “They just weren’t able to do anything with Indians because you didn’t want to trot out someone dressed as an Indian; it just wasn’t happening.”
Despite the challenges of attempting to retain the branding, Wiles said a “fear of change” and “tackling controversy” was likely the reason for the 15-year gap between Chief Sagamore and Rowdy the Redhawk.
Additional pressure from alumni, boosters and media compounded to hold off a definitive change.
“Why would you even consider changing something that’s been part of your tradition since the early 1900s,” Wiles said describing one of the major pushbacks heard from those outside the university administration.
“It really took guts for the president and board of regents and the committees involved to consider [changing the name],” Wiles said.
In 2002, meetings began between the National Alumni Council, Booster Club and Student Government to officially begin the process of retiring and replacing the Indian brand.
“I thought they were extremely thorough in terms of trying to come up with a variety of stakeholders and what their viewpoints were,” Wiles said.
Mayor Harry Rediger was then vice president of the Booster Club and recalled the pushback within the club.
“We were very sensitive in the Booster Club board about booster membership,” Rediger said. “We had quite a few members who at that time who used their pocketbook to say “If you change from the Indian, then I’ll drop my membership.”’
Due to this, the university charged the Booster Club with taking the lead in the process of changing the name and trying to convince boosters it would be a positive decision, Rediger said.
When the motion was passed by the National Alumni Council in July 2003 to retire the Indian name and imagery, the search for a new mascot and nickname began.
Many of the proposals fell short of the Indian popularity, until the proposal of the Redhawk was introduced.
It emerged from a list that included Red Wolves, Red Birds, Sentinels and more.
“When [the name] Redhawk came, it seemed we started to get some turn on the naysayers that Redhawk might be palatable,” Rediger said.
Once Rowdy was introduced, it helped the boosters and naysayers rally around the Redhawk brand, Rediger said.
“I think Rowdy was a significant contributing factor to the acceptance of the Redhawk. Everybody seemed to relate to Rowdy,” Rediger said.
On June 30, 2004, the Board of Regents officially introduced the Redhawk nickname as the new brand of Southeast. Rowdy was later introduced to the public in January 2005 during a basketball doubleheader at the Show Me Center.
Despite growing acceptance, Booster Club numbers were affected for the coming summer and fall.
According to Nate Saverino, assistant director of athletics for external affairs, said numbers decreased in 2005 compared to 2004 ($279,000 in FY04 to $220,000 in FY05). However, the factor of the change may not be solely responsible for the decrease compared to other factors such as on-field/court performance at the time.
Despite this, numbers have increased in the years after the change of the name and mascot, as FY17 was the largest year of booster giving since FY04 and sponsorship revenue is up 500% since FY07.
“The attitude has changed since it’s been long enough removed from the change,” Saverino said.
Even those who took pride in the Indian name and mascot have come around to embrace the Redhawk identity.
“Booster support is a non-issue,” Saverino said in terms of the time since the change, “We weren't hurt at all, if anything we were helped by the change.”
Brady Barke, director of athletics, said most student athletes who played as the Indians have come around to the Redhawk.
Even boosters who reminisce about the Indian brand or think there was no need to change, still donate to the Booster Club and support the university.
According to the director of alumni relations Jay Wolz, any negative impact of the new name in terms of alumni support would be negligible.
Wolz believes the mascot change has only resulted in an increase for alumni support.
“As time went on, Redhawk became more and more embraced by boosters, fans and by our community,” Rediger said. “It’s in the past, it’s done. Redhawks are pretty universally accepted now and people have bought into Redhawk Athletics, and we need to keep it that way.”
As of 2018, the issue of Native American imagery use for sporting nicknames and mascots remains, especially at the professional level.
The reasons not to change are similar to what Southeast went through in the early 2000s (worrying about losing fans and financial incentives).
“At the end of the day, people who really want to support the institution and are proud of where they go to school or went to school or even as a fan, they’re going to support their teams and brands that they feel a connection to,” Saverino said, “Whether we’re Indians or Redhawks, if I feel a connection to Southeast Missouri State University, then I am going to support Southeast Missouri State University, no matter what they call themselves.”